If Twilight Sparkle saw one more Wonderbolts photograph, she was going to scream. It was one thing to idolize a group, like a band or, in this case, a stunt team, but obsessing over them like they were the essence of life itself was going way too far. There must have been two hundred autographed photos of the pegasi donning their trademark flight suits in each horseshoe box, and there were more than twenty boxes under the bed alone. How Rainbow Dash had managed to get such a large quantity of horseshoe boxes that were cloud-safe was a mystery- Twilight had never once witnessed the pegasus wearing horseshoes. She had scrounged through just five boxes over the combined course of a whole day, and she still had to sort through the belongings in Dash's desk. Twilight didn't expect to find much in the way of 'egghead' supplies in the desk- the unicorn was thinking that discarded cupcakes and dusty weather logs would be the kind of things the pegasus would stuff in a drawer. It made her chuckle slightly, remembering Rainbow's total disregard for the sanctity of anything, but like all the displays of any emotion other than 'cripplingly depressed' during the previous two days, it felt forced and hollow. Even though it was the way Dash would have wanted it, it was hard to celebrate.
Pinkie Pie had attempted to throw a 'funeral party' of sorts, but it just hadn't clicked with anypony. When the emcee of a party is a depressed, quivering husk of their former self there's not much fun that could be had. The party had dissolved after only a half-hour- Applejack left first, using apple-bucking as an excuse for her early departure. Twilight knew that the farmer was leaving so that she could release her built up emotions in private. That was the strange thing about Applejack and Rainbow Dash, neither one of them had what would be called a pleasant experience growing up, and yet they never seemed to want to mention it. Twilight at least thought that Dash would have bragged about how bad her childhood had been- the pegasus would use anything as proof that she was better than someone else, even if it was boasting about the amount of abandonment issues she had in comparison to Ponyviille's librarian.
"You have the ruler of the kingdom as a surrogate mom," Dash had loudly stated one winter's eve, after a couple too many liters of apple cider, "The only motherly figure I ever had was the chef at the orphanage, who was also a convicted foalfiddler. A foalfiddler, Twilight. That's the closest thing I've ever had to a mom."
The weirdest thing about that situation was that, not only was it the only time Rainbow had ever brought up her foalhood, but it had also been delivered in a serious, sullen way: There was no competitiveness in her trembling voice, and the gleaming in her eyes was that of pain, not enthusiasm.
She got to the last of the series of autographed photographs and custom-made rally flags and jerseys (this particular box had consisted entirely of jerseys bearing the name Fleetfoot, Dash's personal favorite Wonderbolt) , and tossed it on the disheveled bed. None of the others had dared touch the bed, fearing that the simple movement of a pillow would cause Dash's possibly vehement spirit to come back and haunt them. At least, that's what Pinkie Pie seemed to think. Twilight refused to adjust the sheets because they were one of the few tendril's of Dash's living, breathing presence that remained, and she didn't want that to go away. Shecouldn't let that go away. Rainbow's bedsheets were one of the few non-Wonderbolt related items in the entirety of the house: She even had Wonderbolt china and silverware fore Luna's sake. Instead of the usual embodiment of blue and gold, Rainbow's bedsheets were as white as a cloud, mainly because they were, in fact, a cloud. As far as the unicorn could tell, all the chairs and beds- all the items furniture in the house Dash used, figured Twilight- were made entirely out of thick plumes of cumulonimbus, hoof-crafted into a wide variety of styles. The sheer amount of variety in style and exquisite design had made Rarity squeal in delight when they had first entered the cloud manor. A fraction of a second later, she had realized the sheer stupidity and insensitivity of her sudden burst of poorly timed excitement, and apologized immensely to a sobbing Fluttershy.
Twilight's purple eyes drifted up to a bulletin board, and two items caught her eye: One sent a chill of pain through her spinal chord, the other, intrigued tingling. The first was Rainbow's work-schedule for the month, including days off and planned storms. The other was a photograph, barely visible behind a worn first-place ribbon. The unicorn used her magic to grab hold of the weather schedule, and levitated it down in front of her with precision and grace that only the finest of mages could muster. Not that a simple novice couldn't levitate objects: Even mixed-breed unicorns, like Rarity possessed a rather strong telekentic abilty It was just that whenever Twilight did it, she looked like royalty: Paper at the perfect angle for her to read the words, whilst keeping her head at the proper posture of a dignitary. She scanned the schedule once, and then once again, her stomach twisted by the ironies, and her eyes burning format he bitter sorrow.
Rainbow Dash had died on Tuesday night.
According to her schedule, she was supposed to have Tuesday night off.
She had had no reason to be out in the storm, but she had chosen to go out and fight it anyway: Putting the safety of Ponyville over her own.
She had been a hero, and with each revelation Twilight felt her inner-strength disintegrate a little more
'Why, Dash? Why?'
"...Well, I disagree, Spike. I like some of Stephen Kolt's work, and I really enjoyed The Dark Monolith series, but Celestia, he can't write a proper ending to save his life."
"Sure, but you gotta admire the guy's writing style."
"You just like him because he has a thing for unicorns and uses swear words."
"No! That's no it at all… although, Christina does remind me of Rarity… Wowza, what a bucking babe!"
"It's alright, Spike. Although you better watch that language, I don't want to start having to deal with a miniature Quentin Trotantino here."
"Who's Quentin Trotantino."
"A genius. A twisted, vulgar, jerk of a genius." Twilight rested her head on her hoof, wistfully staring into the middle-distance
"Uhh, okaaayy… I don't want to disturb your… enthralling revirie, but I'm going to hit the hay… pillow… whatever."
Twilight couldn't hear him: Images of Discord getting shot repeatedly in the face with a machine gun filled her head, and brought a sadistic, child-like grin to her purple lips. Spike just slowly backed away from her, inching closer and closer towards the safe-haven of his bed/basket. He kept telling himself that he would start sleeping in the guest bed, once a night, every night since they had moved to Ponyville. However, he had yet to even lay a claw on it's sheets. Old habits died hard, and Spike just couldn't let his old bed go. Of course, there was also the fact that he had grown quite fond of the feel of plastic scraping against his scaled tail, nearly cutting off circulation . 'I guess size doesn't matter.' Spike's prepubescent mind cackled to itself. He laid down in his basket, and pulled the sheets around him, hoping that this night's dreams of Rarity wouldn't cause him to have to wash his sheets early in the morning- desperately trying to rinse away the results of his passions before Twilight awoke and discovered his routine, embarrassing predicament.
"So, uh. 'Night, Twilight."
The baby dragon was sound asleep before Twilight could turn her head away from him. Her eyes drifted outside the window, to the stars and the Moon. She loved stargazing, and always found herself getting absorbed in the beauty of these nocturnal displays of streaking comets and distant stars for hours on end, delaying her bedtime far longer than was good for her health. This night, however, was fairly overcast, and she quickly found that the only parts of the sky she could clearly see was the Moon, occasionally peeking out from behind the cloudy veil. A distant clap of thunder rang out, but she couldn't determine from which direction it was coming from: She hoped that it was coming from the Everfree Forest. If it wasn't, then it meant that the storm was planned and not natural, meaning the weather patrol had decided to concoct on storm on the same night that the moon was supposed to be at it's brightest. She adored these occasions when the Moon got to show it's full power to all of Equestria, and she didn't want it getting ruined by bad planning.
The unicorn determined that her plans for an evening of stargazing had been haplessly shattered by the weather, and figured that it would be best if she went on to sleep. She could use the extra hours of shuteye anyway. Maybe the storm was a blessing in disguise. She sighed: Despite trying to look at the bright side, she was still greatly disappointed. She had really wanted to do some stargazing. 'Oh, well. What's that quote that Stephen Kolt put in the front of one of his books?' She thought to herself, '"You don't always get what you would prefer."? Ehh, that's close enough'. However, she did hope that the sudden storm was out of the weather patrols hands, because if it was planned, the unicorn would break every law of magic she could think of, and use her most powerful telekinetic spell to personally wring Dash's wings. She smiled at the disturbing, yet sarcastically exaggerated thought, and closed her eyes earlier than she had in a long time.
Spike had, once again, woken up to moist sheets. It frustrated him to no end. He wasn't the one deciding to have long, drawn out dreams about Rarity's backside: It was his mind's work. Spike would rather have dreams about getting eaten by zombies, if it meant he didn't have to clean his sheets, with shame, in the library's kitchen sink, in wee hours of the morning so he wouldn't wake Twilight. The one thing that gave him even the slightest hint of solace on this particular occasion was the gentle patter of rain on the tin awning that hung over the kitchen's window. Spike had always found storms to be calming, no matter how intense they got, and nothing put him to sleep faster than the sound of rain falling on windowpanes, leaves, roofs, or whatever other object he may have been sleeping under. Of course, the calmness made washing his sheets even more frustrating: He could have been sleeping soundly at that very moment, but his endocrine system seemed to have other plans. He longed to scream out in anger, frustration, and woe.
Spike fell off of the stool he was standing on with an immense clatter. He cringed, half in pain, and half in preparation for Twilight's wrath being hurled at him for waking her up. However, not even the lightest of clops could be heard on the floorboards above his head, and after holding his breath for a minute, he let out a deep, relieved exhale: He hadn't woken her up. After he was assured of his own safety, his mind wandered to the noise that had made him fall onto the floor in the first place. It had sounded like a long, drawn out scream, far off in the distance. At first, he had assumed it had been the wind, blowing through a cracked open window, but all the windows in the library were sealed tight, and the wind was blowing, according to a nearby flag, away from the old oak tree: No current would have passed through either one of the downstairs windows. Besides, Spike could clearly make out the details of a living voice in the sound: The strain, decrease in volume, and cracking during it's decrescendo. The hints of a phonetic meaning behind the sound. Something was definitely going on in Ponyville, and he was going to find out what it was. Discarding the soggy sheets in the basin, Spike slowly crept over to the library door, undid the many locks Twilight had installed in the door to keep burglars out, and cracked open the door.
The streets of Ponyville were dead: Dead empty and dead quiet. Miniature rivers and lakes made from the rain flowed through the cracks in the cobblestone, illuminated by the hazy light of a hidden moon. The leaves of the bushes that surrounded the doorway to the old library slumped under the weight of water droplets, their flowers a far duller color in the dampness and darkness, and overhead, he could hear he creaking and sway of the old tree-house's branches. Aside from the fauna, there were no signs of any living object for as far as Spike cold see. He had assumed that the sound had been a local stallion or mare, who had consumed one too many drinks, and was drunkenly stumbling down the path while hooting and hollering at the top of their lungs. However, there was no way they would have been able stumble out of Spike's sight before he had reached the door, and Ponyville's streets were empty: It had not been a drunk or a crook. Spike gave a disappointed sigh: For a split second he had let his immature mind run free, and had imagined that he was some kind of detective, whom had been working on a difficult case for a long period of time, and had finally found a huge lead. He imagined that, when he emerged from the library, he would come face-to-face with the culprit he had been searching for, right in front of him after years of persistent investigation. Then there would be a chase, and explosions, and Rarity, and vaults filled with so many gems that a dragon could swim, and possibly drown, in it. However, life didn't play out like the books he would occasionally read when Twilight wasn't looking: There were no lakes of gemstones. He gave a dejected sigh, and closed the door, seizing his reverie.
He waddled back into the kitchen and grabbed his wet sheets. He took them over to a nearby drying rack, and tied them down tightly on each end. Then he did something that would make Twilight completely flip if she found out about it. With the patience and precision of a master chef, Spike took a deep breath, and blew, letting out steady flow of low-temperature fire. Despite being "low-temperature", the flame still held the ability to fully ignite a flamable object, such as sheets, in a mater of seconds, so Spike made sure to keep a fair distance away from the linen: Allowing the heat to reach it, but without the flame itself touching the fabric. It was far quicker and more efficient than the air-drying method that Twilight and most of Ponyville used. Satisfied with his stealth skills, Spike patted himself on the back, and began to sneak back upstairs so he could go back to sleep and repeat the cycle. As he reached the third step, he heard what sounded like a knock, but he assumed it was just the wood settling or a squeaky step. He froze in place, and then heard the knocking again. It was definitely coming from the door of the library. Spike felt a cold sweat begin to escape from the pores of his scaly, purple forehead, and his bones suddenly felt like jelly. 'Who could possibly be here at this hour?', the baby dragon prepared himself to defend himself if what he found behind the door was a drunk looking for a fight. He swallowed hard, begged Celestia to forgive him for blaming the missing candy on Owlicious, and threw back the door.
The farmer pony stood stoically in the doorway, resembling a ghost more than a healthy mare. The stetson she always wore, even at formal occasions, was missing from her head, and her blonde mane was gathered up in a far messier ponytail than it usually was- stray strands of mane draped over the earthpony's back and face. Her coat was covered in mud and rain. Her face showed no real expression, but her eyes were as red as a summer's rose: Spike knew that something was wrong, but he could also tell that Applejack had no intention of telling him anything.
"Is Twilight here?"
"Yeah, she's asleep upstairs. You want me to get her for you?"
"Ah'll go up myself."
Spike wanted to speak up in protest, or at least ask Applejack to explain what was going on, but she had already barged into the library, and was heading up the steps, and he lacked the guts to impede in the determined, hurt mare's progress. He debated whether or not to follow her up the stairs, but eventually chose to stay down in the atrium and stew over the possible reasons behind Applejack's appearance: Every single one of them twisted his stomach in fear.
When she woke up, Twilight knew she had had a good dream: She couldn't remember a thing about it, but she knew it had been a good dream. Her euphoria was short lived, however, when she noticed that the world outside her window was still as dark as it had been when she had fallen asleep. 'What the- I just heard Spike open that door,and it's not even morning yet... He's sneaking snacks! Ooh, I swear to Celestia I have to tell that dragon everything a thousand times before he gets it into his thick skull. I-' Her thoughts had been professing loudly while her body still laid in her comfortable bed, thrashing around with each upset thought related to the dragon's insubordination, while she tried in vain to get off of the rather large "single" mattress in an ordinary fashion. Eventually she just fell flat on her face, sheets falling comically on top of her face. She waited for laughing, but there was none. It was then that she knew that not everything was normal in Ponyville Library: When it came to laughing at other's misfortunes, Spike took every chance he could get. There was no pouncing at the target this time, and it worried Twilight. Hastily, she ripped the sheet off of her face, and came face-to-face with Applejack.
"Applejack? How did you-"
"Spike let me in."
"And where S-"
Everything about this situation seemed wrong to Twilight: The fact that Applejack was in her room in the middle of the night, the fact that she was answering her questions quickly, as if she didn't care about them at all, and especially the way she looked: She looked like she had been to the bottom of the deepest pit of Hell and back, without taking a shower. The earth pony's whole face was damp, but there were two streaks near the edges of her eyes that were significantly darker than the one's on the rest of her face. It was with this that Twilight realized that something seriously bad was going on. She knew just how hard it was to get Applejack to cry- the orange mare was as resilient and emotive as the apple trees she made a living with. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more she realized that she never had seen Applejack cry before. Yet here she was with stained cheeks and misty eyes, and Twilight knew that the answer to the next question would tear herself apart.
"A.J... What happened?"
The mare let in a husky, shuttering breath, it was obvious that she had been sobbing, and it was obvious that she hated herself for doing so. Applejack was trying her best not to look the unicorn in the eye, but Twilight could still clearly see the fresh tears the farmer was trying desperately to hide. Finally, she was able to compose herself enough to give Twilight an answer. It was a typical-Applejack answer, honest and straight to the point. Looking back, Twilight wished that Applejack had been a bit more sympathetic, but at the same time, no matter how Applejack had broken the news, it would have still felt like a sledgehammer.
"Twilight...Rainbow...A...S-somethin...It's bad, Twi. It's bad.'"
Twilight scrunched the work schedule, like she scrunched her teary eyes, warping the parchment into a tight ball using her magic, crushing it to the point of near-disintegration. It was hard enough to lose a friend, it was even harder when their death seemed avoidable and pointless. Twilight wanted to travel back in time and punch herself for those final thoughts she had had before closing her eyes: Maybe if she hadn't have thought those frustrated thoughts about Rainbow, karma would have let the pegasus survive the night. She threw the ball of paper against the wall, disappointed that it didn't destroy something, or at least make some sort of loud noise, when it hit the cloud wall. She fell back on her haunches, weeps threatening to escape her hoarse throat. She had learned many lessons about friendship over time, but this was the one she had always longed to never learn- especially not so soon.
"Twi? Ya okay?"
Twilight turned her head, and saw Applejack standing in the doorway. The cowpony's eyes seemed a lot lighter and sympathetic than they had on the night of the accident, but the purple unicorn could see that the pain was still there- floating just below the surface. She was once again without her trademark hat, but this time it was a mutual decision. Applejack had said it would have been disrespectful to Dash to wear such a casual object to her funeral. They all knew that Rainbow wouldn't have given two bucks if they had all shown up in clown suits, but it still seemed like it was an event that called for formal wear- not to mention Rarity's belligerent insistence that she design special, custom dresses for the occasion.
"No, Applejack. Not really."
"Heh, ya sure ya ain't the Element of Honesty?" The farmer gave the closest thing she could to a chuckle- it sounded more like a sigh than anything else. Twilight gave no acknowledgement of either the joke or the failed laugh, choosing to simply stare at the mare. Two tortured pupils locked in a duet of suffering.
"Well, Ah can't say Ah feel any better, Twilight."
"I'm glad we can all agree on something," In any other situation Twilight would have immediately felt guilty about her sarcasm, but, at this moment, she had no qualms whatsoever.
Applejack glared at the unicorn, not sure whether she should yell at the librarian for her insensitivity, or simply ignore the comment. No matter what she chose, it wouldn't ease the sting of the unicorn's words. 'How dare she talk ta me like that," the farmer's thoughts burned with the rage of a thousand suns, 'She ain't the only pony here who's hurtin'! She ain't the only pony here who lost their best friend..' She shook her head, causing the her long, tied mane to silently bump into the cloud walls. She couldn't be like this. She was the only pony here who could say they had been through the loss of a loved one before, and it was up to her to make sure that the other's got through it. Feeling sorry for herself wouldn't help anypony. But, still. Twilight's attitude was starting to get on her nerves.
"Uh, look, Twilight... Ah'm... Ah'm gonna have ta step out for a bit."
"And where are you going? Going back to your house so you can feel sorry for yourself? Abandon us like you did at Pinkie's party?
Applejack knew that it was the mare's depression talking, but Applejack was going through her own grief, dealing with her own pain, and with those questions Twilight ignited a bomb of frustration that had been building in intensity over the past two days. All ponies grieved in different ways- Applejack's involved getting angry.
"Well, Twi, in case ya'll ain't buckin' noticed, yer not the only ponies in Ponyville who lost someone they care 'bout. Maybe ah feel bad too. Maybe ah cry mahself ta sleep every night, jus like ya'll do. Maybe ah need some space right now. Maybe ah need ta get away from all the pain this bucking house brings me. Have ya ever thought about that, Twilight?" The built up, venomous rage practically dripped off of every syllable the earth pony uttered: Hell itself could not look any more vehement than Applejack's face at that moment. Twilight flinched, each word hitting her like a wrecking ball.
"Applejack... I'm sorry." The unicorn's voice cracked, but it didn't do anything to calm down the angry farmer.
"Ya'll just need to learn that just 'cause yer the Princess' pupil, don't buckin' mean yer the only one 'round here who's grief means somethin'.
With that, Applejack stormed down the hall and out the front door. Her brother, Big Macintosh, had built a makeshift pulley system with an old apple barrel and rope so the girls could get to and leave the cloud whenever they needed. By the time Twilight had gotten to the doorway to chase after the venting farmer, the bucket was already halfway to the ground. The unicorn let out a defeated sigh and reentered Dash's bedroom: There were still ten or more boxes to go through.
Her moist eyes drifted back up to the bulletin board that hung over Dash's bed, and landed on the second item that had caught her eye. The edge of a photograph, peeking out from behind one of the pegasus' many first place ribbons. The ribbon was from a race that Rainbow had won in Fillydelphia, and judging by the dust and worn fabric, it had been won a long time ago- probably back when Rainbow was still just a filly. Not wanting to damage the memento, Twilight removed the ribbon with her hooves, rather than with magic. Carefully, she placed the ribbon on the desk, and looked back towards the wrinkled photograph.
What she saw made her breathing halt.
Tank was cowering in his shell, and it was breaking Fluttershy's shattered heart.
The pegasus had read many books on animal behavior over time, and they were split down the middle when it came to animals and grieving. Some said that animals went through a grieving process far more powerful than that of a regular pony. Others said that a pet can't comprehend the concept of death, and can go on with their lives without their master almost immediately after their death. Personally, she believed the former: She had seen far too many broken pets in her time to believe otherwise.
"Come on out, Tank... I've got carrots. You like carrots, right?"
Not a trace of movement came from the tortoise's shell.
"Tank... You haven't eaten in two days. Please eat something!"
The yellow pegasus had tried everything to get the tortoise to come out of his shell. She had tried singing, giving him his favorite treats, and offering to take him for a walk (An idea that, in hindsight, probably wouldn't have worked no matter what). She had even brought Angel Bunny by to try to coax the old reptile to come out of his shell, but even the persuasions of a fellow pet didn't seem to have any effect. The only reason that Fluttershy knew that the tortoise was even alive was because she could occasionally hear loud snores echoing from the depths of the large shell. Still, if Tank didn't eat anything soon, even the snores would seize, and Fluttershy was becoming increasingly desperate. She had lost her oldest friend already- she didn't want to lose one of the first animals she had ever taken under her wing, as well.
"Fluttershy, darling... Just leave him be, he'll eat in due time."
Rarity had been cleaning up around the living room the entire time that Fluttershy had been trying to feed Tank. It amazed the unicorn how messy Rainbow's house was- it was made out of clouds, there wasn't much that could get dirty. 'Leave it to Rainbow to do the impossible,' thought to herself, memories of fear, happiness, and sadness, filling her head, and spiraling through her mind like a unicorn who had flown to close to the sun. Releasing the duster from her telekinetic grip, she waltzed over to her shy friend, and wrapped a loving foreleg around her neck.
"I...just don't want the poor dear to starve."
"I know you don't, Fluttershy. But, you really should give him some space. Just leave the carrots near him, and let him eat when he's ready."
"B-but, what if he doesn't want to eat? W-w-what if he's refusing to eat because of... of what happened?"
"Now, now, Fluttershy. You mustn't think such things. He will eat."
Rarity felt the temperature of her heart increase to the boiling point: Fluttershy had such an innocence to her, and it made her such a joy to be around.
"Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye."
Fluttershy smiled: it was a tiny smile, but it was a smile that carried the same amount of brightness as a Pinkie-Pie-grin. Rarity pulled her friend into a tight hug, letting her friend rest her weary head on her shoulder. The unicorn knew that the pegasus was trying her best to act tough, but tough was simply not her forte. Rarity felt her well-groomed coat begin to dampen, but she paid no mind to it: She was guilty of dampening Fluttershy's coat with her own tears, anyway. She delicately pushed the pink-maned pegasus back, teal eyes locking onto blue. Rarity gave her own gentle smile,
"A bit... Thanks, Rarity."
A dull thud could be heard from the doorway behind them, and they turned to see Twilight Sparkle lying face-down on the cloud floor, a photograph slowly floating through the air above her head. Rarity reached out and grabbed the photograph, as Twilight lifted her head, eyes rolling in confusion and dizziness. Once she had gotten her bearings straight, the purple mare jumped up and ran over to her two friends, snatching the picture from Rarity's hoof. The shy pegasus and regal unicorn exchanged confused glances between each other, before Fluttershy spoke up.
"Um, if you don't mind me asking, what are you doing, Twilight?"
The mare had been staring, wide-eyed, at the photograph clutched in her hooves- a mix of intense thought and shock written across her face. It took her a moment to realize that Fluttershy had even said anything, then another moment to realize that Fluttershy had been talking to her. Twilight finally locked eyes with Rarity, shoving the photograph into the same set of hooves she had ripped the picture from the clutches of mere moments before. Rarity and Fluttershy looked at the picture and gasped- the pegasus rubbed her eyes with her front hooves, and looked again, thinking she had just been seeing things. But, as she looked back at the coffee-stained, worn photograph, she realized that she was not witnessing an illusion.
It was an image of a unicorn with a cyan coat and a tricolor mane- red, yellow, and orange. What shocked the three mares was not the unicorn, but rather what he had clutched in his two front hooves. He was grasping, and gazing lovingly at, a young Rainbow Dash.
If jaws could hit the floor, there would be three lying upon the ground at that moment.
The long silence was broken by Twilight's voice,
"Fluttershy, you knew Dash longer than any of us... She was an orphan, right?"
"Tha-...That's what she told me."
"She told me she was an orphan as well, darling."
"Yeah. She told me she was an orphan, too."
"Who do you think this stallion is, Twilight?" Fluttershy had comforted Rainbow Dash at certain points during flight school: The tough-as-nails pegasus weeping about how lonely she was. The simple idea that Rainbow could have ever had a loving, adult figure in her life was a hard pill for Fluttershy to swallow.
"I'm thinking he could be her father."
"Twilight... This is a unicorn."
"Sure, but he has the same face, the same mane-style... He looks way too much like her for him not to be her father.
"Still... I don't know...Rainbow always said she was a... you know... An orphan"
"An orphan doesn't have to be born without parents, darling. They can lose their parents over time. Just look at Applejack."
"Umm, Rarity... Applejack's dad is still alive."
"Technically, yes. But I can' assure you that Applejack does not acknowledge him as such."
"But they named the farm after him."
"No, darling, they named it after their mother. Honestly, Fluttershy: Do you really think somepony would name their son, "Sweet Apple"
"Well...it's a possiblility."
"Girls!" Over the years, Twilight had learned that raising her voice was the best way to get her friends' attention. The two mares stopped their mini-conversation about proper colt names, and shifted their attention back to the purple mare. Twilight continued,
"Look, I don't know what she told you girls, but Rainbow always told me that she had been 'left on the orphanage steps' the day after she was born. In this photo, she has to be at least two years old, if not three. Something is not adding up here."
Rarity placed a hoof under her chin, and stared off into space, searching for an answer. Fluttershy also placed her hoof under her chin, but she kept her eyes locked on the photograph. After a minute of intense concentration, it was the light bulb within the shy pegasus' mind that ignited first.
"I think I know who that is!"
"Who?" Both of the unicorns rang out in unison.
"Wait here... I'll be right back." With that, Fluttershy flew out of the door, heading towards her small cottage on the edge of the Everfree Forest, leaving the two unicorn's alone in the cloud. They stood in complete silence for all of four seconds before Rarity re-broke the ice.
"So, what happened between you and Applejack?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't get coy, Twilight. I could hear you two arguing from in here. Whatever happened made Applejack mighty upset."
Twilight let out a sigh, she really didn't want to delve into her confrontation with Applejack again, but it appeared that she was going to have to: Once Rarity got her mind set on something, she couldn't be swayed.
"She... She said she had to leave: Had to go back to her farm. I... I got a little bit upset, and made a few... snarky comments. I shouldn't have said them but... I don't know... I haven't been the same since... you know?"
"That I do, Twilight. That I do," the seamstress chuckled sadly. Being the oldest of the Elements, she felt that, like Applejack, she had to put on a mask of toughness around her friends. Unlike the farm pony, Rarity had kept her pain effectively hidden, but it was still there: Even Fluttershy had no idea how much pain the unicorn was hiding, or even what she was hiding that made the hidden pain intensify tenfold. Trying her best to hold back the sobs that had been threatening to escape her throat consistently throughout the previous two days, Rarity gave Twilight a friendly nuzzle- anything to raise the librarian's spirits even a single percentile.
"Just know that I'm here for you if you need me."
"I know, Rarity. I know. Sorry if I'm being too melodramatic. I just miss her."
"As do I."
Twilight didn't even notice the unicorn's pained face as she choked out the words.
Fluttershy returned with a vinyl record case held tightly between her jaws. She walked up to the two unicorns and dropped the case upon the floor. The two unicorns looked at it for a second before reeling back in disgust.
"'Buck Off and Die'? Fluttershy, what the-"
"Fluttershy, darling, I don't know what kind of joke you are trying to pull, but now is not the time, nor is this the place, for such childish acts! I am ashamed that-."
"Umm, hold on a second. This isn't right."
The blushing pegasus bent down, and flipped the case over to it's reverse side.
"There we go."
The two unicorns once again looked at the case- more cautiously, this time- and immediately saw why Fluttershy had brought a record with such a profane title to a place of mourning. The back of the case consisted of a picture of three griffins, a pegasus, and a unicorn. The unicorn had a cyan body, a red, orange, and yellow mane, cut into a Mohawk, and a thick, orange beard. Twilight looked at the photograph she had found in Dash's room, and then stared at the album sleeve. She repeated this process multiple times before confirming that the unicorn in the photo and the unicorn on the album sleeve were one in the same: The purple unicorn was in shock.
"Fluttershy? How did you even come up with this theory?"
"Oh... it was nothing. Really."
"Nothing? Darling, Sherlock Pones himself could not decipher this as quickly as you did."
"No, really. It's not a big deal."
"Yes, it is Fluttershy. How did you find this? Please, tell me?" Twilight was practically hopping in anticipation
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, darling. Do tell!"
"Well, alright..." Fluttershy took a deep inhale, and Rarity and Twilight both knew that they were in for a long, rapid speech.
"I recognized his face."
There was a long silence before Twilight spoke up
"So... You didn't pull off some kind of impossible series of connections to find out who this guy is?" Twilight was dumbstruck.
"You didn't find some sort of hidden symbol in one of his tattoos or something?"
"You just recognized him as a colt in this band."
"Well, this was hard," Twilight sighed, sarcasm clearly apparent, looking over at a shrugging Rarity.
"Uhh... That's n-not a problem...is it?"
"No, no. I just didn't expect it to be this simple. Nor did I expect you to own an album from a band like this"
"Oh, they're a really good band... That's just my opinion, of course."
"Maybe, but that's not important right now. Do you know where this band is from?"
"Yeah. They're based out of the Whinnypeg."
Twilight recoiled, "Whinnypeg? That's in the Northern Territories."
"Yeah..." Fluttershy was inching closer and closer to the floor: As nervous as foal waiting for their booster shot.
"Sweet Celestia, that's not even in Equestria."
"meep" Fluttershy could only squeak, practically lying on the cloud floor while Rarity tried to calm her down.
"Are they on tour, now?"
"N-n-n-no... Th-they went on hiatus... t-t-two years ago."
Twilight let out a sigh, her own nerves calming down a bit.
"Good. That means that it'll be easier to find him."
Rarity raised her head, eyebrow cocked up in confusion.
"Excuse me? What do you mean by 'find him', Twilight?"
"I mean, I'm going to find him."
"And why would you want to do that?"
"I don't remember seeing this guy at the funeral. Do you, Rarity?"
"From what I can tell, this is a stallion who's lost a daughter, and he has no idea about it."
"Or, maybe he just doesn't care."
"Think about it for a second, Twilight. This 'stallion'... This 'father', abandoned his daughter when she was just a tiny filly. To me, it sounds like he could care less about his daughter's safety."
"How do you know he abandoned her? How do you know Rainbow wasn't lying when she said she was raised in an orphanage? For all we know, she ran away from home because she was angry at him. Hay, she could have just thought he was 'lame', and didn't want us to know he existed."
"BECAUSE SHE WOULD NEVER LIE TO ME LIKE THAT!"
The room went completely silent. Fluttershy looked over and saw the tip of Tank's head as it shot back into his shell in fright. She could see that there were bite marks on the carrot, and she smiled. This solace was short lived, as her attention turned back to the display that had just unfolded before her.
Twilight had recoiled back in shock at the unicorn's sudden outburst, and Rarity's face reflected the same amount of shock, mixed in with embarrassment.
"Forgive me for the outburst, Twilight... I have no idea what got into me."
"I-It's alright, Rarity."
"It's just that... Rainbow Dash always told me that she was abandoned as a foal... And, quite frankly, she never gave me any reason to doubt her claims."
"Hey, I'm the one who should be sorry. Those accusations were a bit harsh, and I apologize for making them."
Rarity simply waved her hoof, "Don't fret, Twilight... So, you are positive that you want to go see this stallion?"
"When do you plan on departing?"
"Well, I was planning on taking the first train tomorrow."
Rarity let out a sigh and stared at the ground, a cyclone raging inside her head. Eventually, she looked up and met Twilight's purple eyes.
"Very well... I shall join you. I don't think anything good will come from it, but I...I'll go.
"Are you sure, Rarity? You don't have to come if you don't want to."
"Yes, I'm sure... Somepony has to show 'loyalty' now, and I want that pony to be me."
"Uhh... I wouldn't mind going either, Twilight." Fluttershy piped up, albeit not looking entirely convinced that she was making the right decision
"...Okay...Should we ask Applejack and Pinkie Pie if they want to go?"
"Sure, why not?" Rarity's voice seemed to carry an uncharacteristic snideness
The pegasus gave the strongest nod she could muster.
"Great. Now, the first train headed up north leaves at nine o'clock tomorrow morning, so if you want to come, be at the train station by then. The trip will probably last through the night, and we have no idea how long we'll be staying in town, so make sure you pack a decent amount, alright?"
The two ponies nodded.
"Good... Now I'm going to go talk to Pinkie. Remember, nine o'clock."
With that, Twilight exited the cloud house, and took the makeshift elevator down to the ground. The moon was just starting to appear in the sky, bright as ever, but Twilight was in too big of a hurry to stop and admire it.